Sunday, March 18, 2007

Riding in the backyard

A short ride down memory lane this late afternoon. This is a place I frequented in my youth. Officially, this place is off-limits. Unofficially... :-P

Few people knew of this place back then. Two decades later, with the kampong folk evicted by the government and the abandoned trail overgrown, reclaimed by the forest, even fewer know of it now.

The trail proper no longer exists, but with a little dead reckoning and stubbornness (l used to know this place well enough to get out in the dark without a flashlight), I found my way again.

A very dead monitor lizard on the road leading to the trail. It probably got run over by a heavy construction truck. In my army days, I have seen 3-tonner troop transports run over these critters and they continue quite unscathed.

The "trail" is quite recognizable.

Plenty of these vines on the ground. These needle-like thorns punch through lycra shorts — and skin — with surprising ease.

Rattan, a climbing palm, also abound. Jeet Sukumaran has a thing or two to say about rattan :-D

The spines are rather stiff and sharp; experience taught me that even the act of casually brushing past them results in deep scratches. Besides fending off herbivores, the spikes also act as grapnels, helping the plant climb host trees. It is for a good reason that some species, with fine, recurve-hooked tendrils, are aptly called nanti sikit or Wait-a-While. In Australia, they are also referred to as Lawyer Vines :-D

Other things in the undergrowth: a curious shrub with its fruits along the main stalk and above the leaves.

A trio of butterflies feeding off a vine's nectar. There were at least 8 on it but 5 flew away when I approached. Reminiscent of vintage lacework, the lower (whitish) parts of their wings are simply gorgeous.

Another shot of these butterflies. Macro shots like these ruthlessly expose the limitations of the Canon A510, but I am unwilling to lug along an expensive, fragile, bulky, and heavy SLR on my rides. (The Canon S3 IS, which also utilizes AA batteries, and boasts an image stabilized lens, seems a possible upgrade path in the future.)

Hmm... this fence wasn't here before. I didn't feel comfortable climbing over rusty barbed wire in spandex shorts, so I circumvented it.

What I discovered off-trail in the undergrowth: a colony of Nepenthes ampullaria. The pitchers, formed from highly-modified leaves, hang from vines in clusters. Nepenthes ampullaria are unique from other pitcher plants as it changed its dietary lifestyle from a carnivore to a detritivore. Consequently, the structure and location of the pitchers are adapted towards the capture of leaf litter, rather than insects.

Close up. While the lid usually hangs above other pitchers, those of Nepenthes ampullaria hang away from the mouth of the pitcher, so as not to obstruct the capture of leaf detritus. These pitchers are about the size of a tea cup.

On the other side of the fence now.

In those days, they didn't have warnings, much less a fence. This used to be a sedimentation pond. Untreated water would be discharged into this pond. Sediments in the water would settle, and the water then cascades down to the reservoir. Over the past 32 years, the pond filled up with silt. It doesn't matter if you know how to swim, the pond's pretty much quicksand.

Looks can be deceiving, I guess.

Another shot of the death trap. (Yes, the lens cover failed to fully retract. Grrr!)

Descending to Upper Peirce Reservoir.

One fine Sunday afternoon in the 90s, along with 2 classmates, we caught a record 37 Common Snakehead (Channa striata) in 30 minutes. It was hell lugging all the fish back to my house. My family ate fish for lunch and dinner for a week.

I suppose it could have been worse — we could have caught 37 of these critters instead. The Giant Snakeheads (Channa micropeltes) are awesome. Sometimes they would attack a hooked fish as the helpless animal is reeled in, resulting in a nasty surprise for the angler.

There are trails on the other side as well, but I didn't explore them today.

Many quiet afternoons were spent here. Occasionally, the soothing sounds of the lapping waves would be punctuated by the antics of the White-collared Kingfisher (Halcyon Chloris), or the splash as a White-bellied Fish-Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) grabs its prey off the surface of the water. Meanwhile, stalking in the background like mini AT-STs, are Great Egrets (Egretta alba).

Zooming in on Upper Thomson in the distance.

A composite shot.

Sorry, no directions this time, the fewer people know how to get here, the better. (Besides, it's a $150 fine if the ranger catches you there. $500 if you are fishing.)

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